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CELEBRATING AUTUMN'S ABUNDANT ATTRACTIONS Fall is ripe for harvest festivals, horse racing, war re-enactments


It was too hot in the summer to go anywhere but the beach or the mountains. Winter will be here in a few months and most of us, if we're not skiing, will want to stay inside. But fall is the best time to pack up the car, get out of town and experience some of the bounty that autumn in this area promises.

All around are autumn celebrations: harvest festivals, foliage tours, railroad trips. As the air cools and the landscape's colors broaden to reds, yellows and oranges, one thinks of food -- the fruits and ciders and seafood and pumpkins and all the other good things that signal the change in the season. Since this area is defined by the waters surrounding it, ocean and bay towns offer appreciations of their own, celebrating oysters and fish and the seafaring way of life.

Not all activities are related to the harvest. Fall is a prime time for horse racing, especially steeplechases run over rolling hills. Maryland and Virginia will feature jousting competitions this fall, and there will be a number of Civil War encampments and Revolutionary War observances.

So before the frosty nights turn into the first early snows, make plans for a fall outing or two. Here are some options.

The Mid-Atlantic region is a rich farming area, and this is most apparent in the fall. It seems that almost every town and county in Maryland, Virginia, Delaware, Pennsylvania and West Virginia are host to harvest festivals. Some are general in nature: the Harrisburg (Pa.) Fall Festival Oct. 11-12, and the Fall Harvest Festival Oct. 19-20 at the Delaware Agricultural Museum in Dover.

Some are more specific. Pumpkins are a favorite autumn vegetable, as evidenced by the number of pumpkin festivals available, such as the West Virginia Pumpkin Festival in Milton Oct. 4-6 and Great Pumpkin Festival in Old Bedford Village, Pa., Oct. 26-27. As for the preferred fall fruit, what else but the apple? Arendtsville, Pa., is host to the Apple Harvest Festival Oct. 5-6 and Oct. 12-13, and for a variation of the fruit there's the Apple Dumpling Festival Oct. 12 in Ephrata, Pa., and the Apple Butter Festival Oct. 26 in the Beehive Complex at Fair Hill in Cecil County. Harvest Days, at Cider Mill Farm in Elkridge Sept. 28-29, promises apple cider pressings and apple butter making.

Eating seafood is a year-round activity in the region, but fall seems to offer an especially large number of opportunities. Autumn is prime fishing weather on the beach, before the cold weather forces the fish to warmer waters in the south. For the competitive fishermen, Ocean City is host to the Mid-Atlantic Surf Anglers Surf Fishing Tournament Oct. 3-5; and the 12th annual Surf Fishing Tournament is held the following weekend, Oct. 12-13, at Delaware Seashore State Park in Bethany Beach.

A number of places are home to oyster festivals. The best known, of course, is the 25th annual St. Mary's County Oyster Festival Oct. 19-20, which features oysters cooked in a variety of ways and oyster-shucking competitions. Across the Chesapeake Bay, in Crisfield, will be the J. Millard Tawes Historical Museum Oyster and Bull Roast Oct. 19.

A week earlier, on Oct. 12, will be the Chincoteague (Va.) Oyster Festival, which promises "oysters cooked every possible way." If those two festivals aren't enough, try the Sign of the Plough Oyster Festival at Gates House and Plough Tavern in York, Pa., Oct. 20 and the fifth annual Waterfront Fall Oyster Roast in Norfolk, Va., Nov. 16.

Not only bountiful seafood but a celebration of a way of life is promised in the Chesapeake Appreciation Days, Oct. 26-27 at Sandy Point State Park. The skipjack races are a particular favorite. Tilghman Island Day on Oct. 19 features both skipjack and work-boat races, and life on the bay is celebrated in St. Mary's City in Maritime Heritage festivals Sept. 21-22 and Oct. 14-15. The Waterfowl Festival in Easton, held this year Nov. 8-10, usually has on display exquisite duck decoys and other wood carvings. And in Virginia Beach, the 18th annual Neptune Festival celebrates such beach-time activities as sailing, surfing and sand-castle building. It begins today and will continue until Sept. 29.

Historical observances

Civil War encampments and battle re-enactments have become increasingly popular in recent years, and that interest was only increased since the popular "Civil War" series that ran on PBS last fall. Both North and South are represented in this area. In Pennsylvania, an encampment in Nazareth Sept. 28-29 will portray the lives of the 96th Infantry. The 9th Infantry of the Pennsylvania Reserve Volunteer Corp. will set up at Tara Inn, in Clark, Oct. 4-5 and Oct. 18-19.

Civil War Day in Waterford, Va., on Oct. 19 will feature tours of Confederate and Union encampments and a re-enactment battle. Living History Weekend, in New Market, Va., Nov. 16-17, promises drills, musket demonstrations and cannon firing.

The Revolutionary War is represented by re-enactments of the Battle of Germantown in Philadelphia at noon and 3 Oct. 5 (the actual battle was Oct. 4, 1777). Yorktown Day Weekend, on Oct. 19-20, will commemorate George Washington's victory at Yorktown, Va., on Oct. 19, 1781.

For a look at earlier weaponry, there's the Grand Militia Muster Oct. 19-20 in St. Mary's City, which will feature re-enactments of 17th century units and militia drills. Then there's a celebration of Maryland's official sport in the Maryland State Jousting Championship, at the Harford County Equestrian Center in Bel Air Oct. 6. A week later, on Oct. 13 at Great Meadow, Va., fans of the sport can take in the National Jousting Championship.

As 1992 approaches, we're hearing much about the 500th anniversary of the voyage of Christopher Columbus to the New World. In Washington, the Columbus Quincentenary will be highlighted by a free ethnic cultural festival (sponsored by the National Park Service) Oct. 12-14, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., at Columbus Memorial Plaza in front of Union Station.

Riding rails and horses

Excursions on local railroads have become a favorite pastime in the fall, as they provide a superb (and comfortable) way to take in the foliage. Many of these railroads fell into disuse but were revitalized under private ownership.

On leaf-peeping weekends in October, the Blue Mountain and Reading railroads will be offering Fall Foliage Extravaganzas by Rail in Hamburg, in Berks County, Pa. On Oct. 5, you could take in the Fall Foliage Rail Excursion, in North East, Pa. It begins at the Lake Shore Railway Museum and includes a five-hour ride to Gowanda on the New York and Lake Erie Railroad.

Maryland's history is heavily tied in to the development of the railroad, and the town of Brunswick, on the Potomac River in Frederick County, is the quintessential railroad town. Accordingly, two days are needed for the Brunswick Railroad Renaissance Festival Oct. 5-6. Another railroad town, Roanoke, Va., is host to the Roanoke Railway Expo Oct. 11-13.

Another type of riding also becomes popular in the fall. Steeplechase races abound in Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania.

One favorite tradition for Marylanders is to pack a picnic lunch and head out to Fair Hill, in Cecil County, for the steeplechase races. On Oct. 12, race-goers will have a chance to see the best steeplechase horses in the world in the $250,000 Breeders' Cup Steeplechase. Eight races are scheduled, beginning at 1 p.m., but many people arrive hours earlier (gates open at 10:30 a.m.) to spread out chairs and blankets for an extravagant picnic. There's even on-site (and legal) pari-mutuel betting.

The facility also will be host to the Fair Hill International Event, a cross country and jumping competition Oct. 25-27.

In Virginia, the well-heeled and well turned out simply must attend the Foxfield Races in Charlottesville, held this year on Sept. 29. Closer to Baltimore, the Fairfax Hunt Steeplechase Races will be held at Belmont Plantation, near Leesburg, on Sept. 21, and the 57th running of the Montpelier Hunt Races will take place Nov. 2.

In Pennsylvania, the thrill of the hunt will be evident Oct. 10-13 at the Radnor Hunt Fall Three-Day Event in Malvern.

Two other major international events will take place in Maryland. Many Maryland racing fans would not dream of missing the International Turf Festival, at Laurel Race Course Oct. 19-20. The feature event, the Budweiser International, attracts some of the finest "turf" horses in the world.

The Washington International Horse Show, featuring top-flight riders and horses, will offer a full week of equestrian events Oct. 20-27 at the Capital Centre.

It may not be "National Velvet," but the Pennsylvania 4-H Horse Show, in Harrisburg Oct. 25-27, features the state finals of various competitions.

For more information on the above events, call these state tourism offices:

*Maryland Office of Tourism Development: 333-6611 or (800) 543-1036.

*Virginia Division of Tourism: (804) 786-4484.

*West Virginia Department of Commerce: (800) CALL-WVA.

*Pennsylvania Department of Commerce: (800) VISIT-PA or (717) *Delaware Tourism Office: (800) 441-8846 or (302) 739-4291.

*Washington Convention and Visitors Association: (202) 789-7000.

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